Did you know? O.T


  • An individual in the ancient Near East could claim rights to a well on someone else's land (21:25-30). 

  • The bride price paid by a husband's family was to be held in trust to provide for the wife if she were to find herself abandoned or widowed (31:14-16). 

  • A man's seal, cord and staff were symbols of his individual and corporate identity—the ancient equivalent of an I.D. card or signature (38:17-18). 

  • Both the Egyptians and the Babylonians compiled "dream books," containing sample dreams with keys to their interpretation (40:8). 

  • The philosophy behind the Egyptian practice of embalming was a belief that the body was to be preserved as a repository for the soul after death (50:2-3). 


  • The plague of darkness was almost certainly a challenge against Ra, an Egyptian sun god. This would also have been a direct challenge to Pharaoh, since Egyptian kings were referred to as sons of Ra (10:21-23). 

  • In the treaty language of the ancient Near East, the "love" owed to the great king was a conventional term for total allegiance and implicit trust expressing itself in obedient service (20:6). 


  • Other ancient cultures viewed sacrifices as "food for the gods" (see Eze 16:20: cf. Ps 50:9-13), but Israel's offerings—though sometimes called "food" metaphorically (21:6,8,17,21; 22:25)—were viewed as gifts to God that he would receive with delight (3:11,16). 

  • The phrase "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" represents a statement of principle: The penalty was to fit the crime, not to exceed it (24:20). 


  • The God-ordained test for an unfaithful wife was a means of protecting innocent women from false accusation by jealous husbands within a male-dominated court system (5:21-22). 

  • Trumpets—long, straight, slender metal tues, with flared ends—were blown for order and discipline (10:1-10). 

  • God waived his right to receive fulfillment of a dependent woman's vow in favor of preserving something highly valuable to him: harmony in the home (30:3-15). 


  • It is not unusual in the Old Testament for events to be reported out of chronological order—or for a leader to be credited with doing something actually accomplished by someone else (Dt 10:1-11). 

  • The reason for prohibitions against eating "unclean" animals was basically spiritual, though there may have been psychological and health considerations as well (14:1-21). 

  • Contempt of court—whether by a judge who for whatever reason did not want to exact the stipulated punishment or by a regular citizen—was a capital offense (17:8-13). 

  • Israelite military officers spelled out to potential inductees ways to be excused from service. If a man did not fit any of the specific categories of exemption, the last—"Is any man afraid or fainthearted?"—would relieve him of duty if he so desired (20:1-20). 

  • Mosaic Law forbade a person who found a bird's nest with the mother and her brood in it from harming the mother bird. Semite people in general viewed with extreme disfavor anyone who willfully disturbed a bird in the nest (22:6). 

  •  "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is not an Old Testament quote, as some think, but the concept does have a Biblical basis (23:9-14). 


  • In the ancient Near East a judicial verdict of the gods was commonly obtained by compelling an accused person to submit to a trial-by-water ordeal. Usually this involved casting the accused into a river. If the person drowned, the gods had found him or her guilty. Here the Israelites engaged in a different kind of trial-by-water ordeal (3:10-11). 

  • When Israelite officers placed their feet on the necks of great and powerful kings they had subdued, they were recognizing them as frail human beings like everyone else. This practice, widespread in ancient times, is pictured in the artwork of Egypt and Assyria (10:24). 

  • The use of lots in Old Testament contexts placed everything in God's hands—making it clear that chance did not come into the picture (14:1-5). 

  • Horses and chariots posed an awesome challenge to the Israelites, whose own army was made up exclusively of foot soldiers (11:1-5). 

  • "Defiled," a term for ritual uncleanness, did not necessarily imply something sinful (22:19). 


  • It was a common practice in the ancient Near East to physically mutilate prisoners of war, thereby rendering them unfit for future military service (1:6). 

  • Any distinct ethnicity of the Israelites is almost impossible to determine from archaeological records from the period 1200-1000 B.C. (2:6-3:6). 

  • At the heart of the idolatry practiced by the ancient fertility cults was the idea that the deity magically took up residence within the man-made idol (3:7). 

  • Many Benjamite soldiers were left-handed or ambidextrous. Left-handedness may have been artificially induced by binding the right arms of young boys to produce superior warriors (3:15-23). 

  • "Curdled milk" was artificially soured by being shaken in a skin-bottle and then allowed to ferment due to bacteria that remained in the skin from previous use (5:25), 

  • The use of riddles at feasts and on special occasions was popular in the ancient world (14:12). 


  • Uncovering a man's feet and lying down was a customary, nonverbal means of requesting marriage (3:1-4).

  • The land of a family or clan could not be sold permanently (4:1-3). 

  • Taking off one's sandal and giving it to another was a public way of renouncing one's property rights and transferring them to another (4:7). The Nuzi documents (Akkadian, mid-second millennium B.c.) refer to a similar custom, which no longer applied during the time of Israel's judges. 

1 Samuel

  • The ancient Greeks, to whom the Philistines were apparently related, sometimes decided issues of war through chosen champions who met in combat between the armies. This "trial by battle ordeal" was based upon the belief that the gods of each army actual fought or decided the battle (17:4). 

  • Using the normal conventions of Hebrew poetry—in which 10,000 was typically used as the parallel for 1,000—the phrase "Day' his tens of thousands" was the women's way of saying, "Saul and David have slain thousands" (18:7). 

  • Priests and diviners were sometimes forced, under penalty of death, to take oaths of loyalty to the king. committing to serve as hi informants (22:9-18). 

  • Grasping the hem of a garment symbolized loyalty. but cutting off a piece of a person's robe signified disloyalty and rebellion (24:4-5). 

2 Samuel

  • It was customary for new kings to assume the harem of their predecessors (3:7). 

  • Ancient cultures viewed disability as a sign of sin or of God's disfavor (4:4). 

  • Royal women played a significant political role in ancient societies (16:21-22). 

  • Threshing floors, normally on hills, were traditional sites for receiving divine messages (24:18-25). 

1 Kings

  • Most ancient prostitutes were slaves, often daughters who had been sold by their parents or poor women who had never married or had lost their husbands (3:16). 

  • Since Solomon had 1,400 chariots (10:26; 2Ch 1:14), his stables included stalls for 2.800 chariot horses (two for each chariot), with additional stalls for 1,200 horses (1 Ki 4:26). 

  • Ancient wisdom included music, poetry, proverbial sayings for wise conduct and what we would now call science (4:29-34). 

  • It was common during Old Testament times for the people of one nation to recognize the deities of another (5:7). 

  • The Palace of the Forest of Lebanon was so named because its many pillars were made from the trunks of cedars of Lebanon, giving the appearance of a massive forest (7:2). 

  • The -Sea of cast metal" was an enormous reservoir of water, holding about 11,500 gallons-43,527 liters—and used by the priests for ritual cleansing (7:23). 

2 Kings

  • Ancient pagans thought that the magical power of curses could be nullified either by forcing the pronouncer of a curse to retract the statement or by killing him or her so that the curse would accompany that individual to the netherworld (1:6-15). 

  • Baldness, uncommon among the ancient Jews, was considered an object for mockery, while luxuriant hair seems to have been viewed as a sign of strength and vigor (2:23). 

  • It is still common for wadis (dry river beds) in the Arabah to become streams after a cloudburst, leaving behind pools of water. The storm may occur far enough away that no sound of wind or rain can be heard, but the water gathers and rushes down the valleys, often taking travelers by surprise (3:20). 

  • It was commonly assumed throughout the ancient Near East that a deity could be worshiped only on the soil of the nation to which he or she was bound (5:17). 

  • Women's makeup was sophisticated: black kohl to outline the eyes, blue eye shadow from lapis lazuli, crushed cochineal to serve as lipstick and scarlet henna to paint fingernails and toenails. There were also powders and an array of perfumes and ointments (9:30). 

  • It was common in the ancient Near East to seek omens by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals (16:15). 

1 Chronicles

  • Names are often spelled differently in Chronicles than in the earlier books, but these variations are only "problems" to our modern way of thinking. The ancient world was not concerned about exact statistics and standard spellings (1:1-27). 

  • In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia kings erected monuments and constructed great temples as an act of homage to the deity they considered responsible for establishing them upon their thrones (17:1-4). 

  • Levitical gatekeepers in a broad sense were a paramilitary security force (26:1). 

  • Lot-casting had nothing to do with "chance." Quite the opposite, it prevented partiality and emphasized the divine nature of the decision, since the outcome of a lot was from the Lord (26:1). 

  • Rather than a standing army, David's military divisions represented a militia or citizen army, something like the U.S. National Guard (27:1-15). 

  • There is no evidence of direct taxation during the reign of David; his court appears to have been financed by extensive landholdings, commerce, plunder from his many wars and tribute from subjugated kingdoms (27:25-31). 

2 Chronicles

  • Stonecutters and carriers at the quarries in the hills near Jerusalem were to be drawn from among the alien population in Israel (2:1– 18) 

  • The 666 talents of gold Solomon received annually equated to approximately 25 tons. The unspecified sum of Solomon's gross yearly income included both money from tributes and tariffs and profits from his own capital ventures, which primarily involved international trade (9:13-14). 

  • Salt had a ceremonial use in the ratification of treaties, standing for faith, loyalty and longevity (13:5). 

  • Cyrus allowed captive peoples to return to their lands. His efforts to win the favor of peoples who had been treated harshly by the Babylonians were used by God to inaugurate the restoration period (36:22-23). 


  • A shekel (about .4 oz-11.34 g—of silver) was the average wage for a month's work. Thus a mina would have been the equivalent of five years' wages and a talent of 300 years' wages (2:69)! 

  • Tattenai and his associates were part of the elaborate system of informers and spies used by Near Eastern kings. Two officials who reported to the Persian monarch were known as the king's eye" and "the king's ear." (5:3-5). 

  • Persian kings consistently helped to restore sanctuaries in their empire (6:3-5). 

  • The returning exiles were not uncompromising separatists but were willing to accept any who would disconnect themselves from the paganism of the foreigners introduced into the area by the Assyrians (6:19-21). 

  • The story of Esther. the queen who saved the Jewish people from massacre, fits into the interval of nearly 60 years that separates Ezra 7:1 from 6:22. 

  • In ancient societies mothers were given custody of their children when marriages were dissolved. In Babylon divorced women were granted their children and had to wait for them to grow up before remarrying (10:3). 


  • One of the cupbearer's duties was to choose and taste the king's wine to make certain it was not poisoned. The need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues that characterized the Persian court. Xerxes, the father of Artaxerxes I, was killed in his own bedchamber by a courtier (1:11). 

  • The Sheep Gate was known in New Testament times as having been located near the Bethesda Pool (in the northeastern corner of Jerusalem). Even today this area is periodically used as a sheep market (3:1). 

  • Women did not participate in ordinary meetings but were included, together with children, on sacred occasions. In one memorable instance the people stood for five or six hours, attentively listening to the reading and explanation of the Scriptures (8:2-3). 

  • The practice of forcibly redistributing populations was also used to establish Greek and Hellenistic cities (11:1-2). 


  • The Greek historian Herodotus explained that the Persians drank as they deliberated matters of state, believing that intoxication put them in closer touch with the spiritual world (1:10-12). 

  • The Persian practice of "hanging" was actually impalement for the purpose of public exhibition of a corpse (2:23).

  • Among the Persians the only thing prized more highly than a large number of sons was valor in battle (5:11). • Persian protocol dictated that no one but the king could be left alone with a woman of the royal harem (7:7-8). 

  • Purim is still celebrated today. The entire book of Esther is read in the synagogue on the holiday, during which noisemakers are used. People cheer at the sound of Mordecai's name and boo and hiss at the mention of Haman (9:29-32). 


  • The Hebrew for the word "donkeys" is feminine in form. Donkeys that produced offspring were highly valued (1:3). 

  • Job, like the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, functioned as a priest for his family. He took his sacrificial obligation seriously, making atonement even for sins of the heart (1:5). 

  • Job's friends adopted a drastic form of mourning, usually reserved for death or total disaster. They tore their robes of nobility, wailed and threw dust into the air—then sat in silence before Job for seven days and nights. To speak before the individual in mourning did so was considered bad taste (2:12-13). 

  • The ancient Israelites, despite their limited knowledge of astronomy, were awed by the fact that God had created the constellations (9:9) 

  • Most people of the ancient Near East believed that at death everyone went down to the netherworld, a dark, dreary place under the earth, ruled by various gods. People there were thought to endure a shadowy, sleepy existence from which there was no escape (10:21) 

  • The Canaanite deity Mot ("Death") was portrayed as having a devouring throat that reached from earth to sky (18:13-14). The prophet Isaiah (Isa 25:18) reversed the figure, picturing God swallowing up death forever. 

  • Although Job was not an Israelite, he worshiped the one true God (23:13). 

  • The Hebrew word behemoth means "beast par excellence." It refers to a large land animal, possibly the hippopotamus or the elephant (40:15). 


  • Forgetting God in the Hebrew mind was a willful act of "unlearning," whereby rebellious humans rejected what they had known and sought to create a world in which God did not act or exist (42:3-4). 

  • Though there is evidence that ancient Israel was far more forested than it is today, the presence of flourishing trees was still a sign of divine blessing for former nomads living on the fringes of a settled, agricultural society (52:8). 

  • The picture of splashing joyfully about in an enemy's blood—though utterly incomprehensible to us—is a traditional Biblical image borrowed from ancient Near Eastern literature. It symbolizes victory over an enemy (58:10). 

  • Incense and prayer were associated. The sweet smoke of incense arose as a pleasing offering to God (141). 

  • It was not uncommon in the ancient world for temple columns to be shaped in the form of women (144:12). 


  • The 30 sayings of Proverbs 22:17-24:22 are similar to the 30 units of the Egyptian "Wisdom of Amenemope," written prior to Solomon's time. 

  • Agur was likely a non-Israelite wise man like Job and his friends (30:1). 

  • Total abstinence from alcohol was rare in the ancient world, even while the problems of addiction to drink were recognized (31:4-7). 

  • In Jewish tradition Proverbs 31:10-31 is recited by a husband to his wife on Sabbath evenings. 


  • The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh contains a section remarkably similar to 9:7-9, illustrating the international flavor of ancient wisdom literature. 

  • "Words" are a common theme in wisdom literature (10:12). 

  • The Teacher advocated being adventurous, for those who accept risks will reap returns (11:1). 

  • The Teacher encouraged diversification of investments; people can never know in advance which ventures may fail (11:2). 

Song of Solomon

  • Dark skin was considered unattractive by privileged women of the time (1:5). 

  • "Sister" was a common term of endearment in the love poetry of the ancient Near East (4:9). 

  • The mandrake plant was associated with the ability to arouse sexual desire and increase fertility (7:13). 


  • Recent archaeological discoveries confirm that some Israelites worshiped Asherah as the Lord's consort or partner (17:8). 

  • The Assyrians were notorious for leading away their captives by ropes tied to rings in their noses (37:29). 

  • Throughout the Old Testament we see instances of God dispatching angelic agents as carriers of plague (37:36). 

  • The Hebrew phrase for "a memorial and a name" (yad vashem) was many centuries later chosen as the name of the principal Holocaust monument in Jerusalem in modern Israel (56:5). 

  • During the Jerusalem siege Hebrew slaves were released--only to be reclaimed by their masters after further consideration (58:6). 


  • The ancient world considered child sacrifice a supremely religious act, since it gave the god what was most precious to the worshiper (7:31). 

  • "Jew" is a shortened form of "Judahite" (an inhabitant of the kingdom of Judah, where a remnant of the Israelites was still living). 

  • The Recabites were related to Moses' father-in-law, Jethro the Kenite. Though not ethnic Jews, this nomadic tribe lived among or near the Israelites and zealously attempted to be faithful to the Lord (35:2). 

  • The name Ben-Hadad designated a king as the adopted "son" (ben means "son") of the Aramean god Hadad. Comparable to the term pharaoh in Egypt, several kings from Damascus used this title/name (49:27). 

  • A little known fact of ancient shepherding is that a goat would often lead a flock of sheep (50:8). 

  • Marshes were sometimes set on fire to destroy the reeds in order to prevent fugitives from hiding among them (51:32). 


  • Ramparts were sloping, wall-like fortifications of earth or stone that were used as a protective barrier against invaders (2:8). 

  • The Hebrews divided the night into three watches: (1) sunset-10:00 P.M., (2) 10:00 P.M.-2:00 A.M. and (3) 2:00 A.M.—sunrise (2:19). 

  • The threat of starvation during the siege of Jerusalem had compelled some mothers to cook and eat their own children (2:20). 


  • The practice of rubbing newborns with salt has been observed among Arab peasants as recently as A.D. 1918 (16:4). 

  • The inner courtyard of Ezekiel's visionary temple was a perfect square—the "shape" of perfection, or holiness (40:47). 

  • The Dead Sea contains so much salt that nothing can live in it (47:8). 


  • Daniel had been carried off to Babylon as part of a deportation in 605 B.C., but he was still there in 539 B.C. and still alive when the first exiles returned to Jerusalem (Da 1:1). 

  • Belshazzar, Nabonidus's son, was coregent with his father and ruled Babylon during Nabonidus's ten-year absence from the capital city (5:1). 

  • The identity of "King Darius" is puzzling. In this instance, "Darius" was evidently a throne name for someone ruling on orders from Cyrus or else Cyrus's throne name in Babylon (6:1). 


  • Clay tablets from Ugarit tell of fertility rites carried out by the Canaanites at the high places, and pagan rituals involving sexual immorality were often conducted under oak trees, which were considered sacred (4:13). 

  • "Harlots" were common prostitutes, while "shrine prostitutes" were women of the sanctuaries who served as partners for men in the sexual activity that was part of their religious ritual (4:14). 

  • The "festival of our king" probably refers to a coronation or birthday celebration that developed into a drunken orgy (7:5). King Elah died in drunkenness (1Ki 16:9). 

  • Four Israelite kings were assassinated within 20 years, Zechariah and Shallum during a mere seven-month period (Hos 7:7). 


  • Drunkenness is the only specific sin mentioned in the book of Joel (1:5). 

  • A call for national prayer and fasting signaled an extraordinary event (1:13-14). 

  • The "trumpet," made from a ram's horn, was used to signal of approaching danger (2:1). 

  • Latticed windows with no glass would not have prevented the locusts from entering the houses (2:9). 


  • "Fortresses" may refer not only to citadels but also to the fortress-like, palatial dwellings of the rich and powerful (1:4). 

  • In ancient times many people believed that burning the bones of the dead deprived the person's spirit of the rest that was widely believed to result from decent burial (2:1). 

  • Since Israel had extended its influence over Damascus by this time, the rich merchants of Samaria may have maintained luxurious houses in Damascus, along with market privileges in that city (3:12). 

  • The well-fed cattle raised in Bashan were considered the best breed in ancient Canaan (4:1). 

  • The reference to burning the dead bodies may actually refer to lighting a memorial fire in honor of the dead, as cremation was not generally practiced (6:10). 


  • Edom's arrogance was grounded in its virtually impregnable mountain strongholds (v. 3). 

  • The Edomites safeguarded their wealth—accumulated from trade—in vaults in the rocks (v. 6). 

  • Edom, particularly Teman, was known for its wise men. Eliphaz, one of Job's three friends, was a Temanite (v. 8). 


  • The sailors understood Jonah's description of God as being characteristic of the highest deity, for in the religions of the ancient Near East the supreme god was usually the master of the seas (1:9). 

  • The Hebrew for -great fish" and the Greek for "huge fish" in Matthew 12:40 are both general terms for a large sea creature, not necessarily (but possibly) a whale (1:17). 

  • The Assyrians. instead of numbering their years, named them after certain rulers and powerful men (3:4). 


  • Going barefoot was a sign of mourning, as was wearing sackcloth. It is possible that Micah actually walked barefoot through Jerusalem, wearing only a loincloth of sackcloth (1:8). 

  • The Hebrew for "parting gifts" is translated "wedding gift" in 1 Kings 9:16. Jerusalem would give up Moresheth Gath to Assyria, as a father gives a "wedding gift" to his daughter when she marries (1:14). 

  • "Seers" is an older term for "prophets" (3:7). 

  • A plowshare (4:3) was an iron point mounted on a wooden beam (ancient plows did not include what we know as a plowshare). 

  • To sit under one's own vine and fig tree was a proverbial picture of peace, security and contentment (4:4). 

  • "Seven ... even eight" is figurative for "an indefinite number" (5:5). 

  • A hopeful element was actually quite common in laments (7:7). 


  • It was common practice for peoples in the ancient world to identify their deities with observable, awe-inspiring natural phenomena (1:3-6). 

  • Nineveh's wall, which was almost 8 miles (13 km) long with 15 gates, was surrounded by a moat 150 feet (nearly 46 m) wide. The moat had to be filled in before attackers could reach the city wall. The "protective shield" refers to a large defensive shelter covered with hides to deflect stones and arrows (2:5). 

  • The lion is an appropriate image for Assyria, which was known for its viciousness. Nineveh itself contained numerous lion sculptures (2:11). 

  • The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III boasted of having erected a pyramid of chopped-off heads in front of an enemy's city. Other Assyrian kings stacked corpses like cordwood by the gates of defeated cities (3:3). 

  • Atrocities against civilians were common in ancient warfare: Infants were routinely killed, leaders often put in chains and lots cast to determine which prisoners of war would be taken into exile and resettled in other lands (3:10). 

  • Nineveh's destruction was so complete that the decimated city was never rebuilt. Within a few centuries it was covered with wind-blown sand, leaving no trace except a mound that is known today as Tell Kuyunjik, "the mound of many sheep" (3:19). 


  • Habakkuk is probably a Babylonian name, referring to a kind of garden plant (1:1). 

  • The timbers of the highly prized cedars of Lebanon had been ravaged for centuries by the kings of Assyria and Babylon to adorn their temples and palaces. Assyrian inscriptions record hunting expeditions in the Lebanon range, and the invading Babylonians may have engaged in such sport as well (2:17). 

  • Old Testament writers frequently combined recollections of the mighty acts of God with conventional images of a fearsome manifestation of his power: He is depicted as riding on the mighty thunderstorm as his chariot, his arrows flying in all directions, a cloudburst of rain descending upon the earth and the mountains quaking before him (3:3). 

  • "Plague" was one of the elements of the characteristic triad of divine punishment: sword, famine and plague (3:5). 


  • Incense to pagan deities was often burned on rooftops (see Isa 15:3; Jer 1:16), and the kings of Judah had gone so far as to erect pagan altars on the roof of the palace in Jerusalem (Zep 1:5). 

  • There was evidently a general and widespread pagan idea that the threshold of a home, temple or other building was the dwelling place of spirits (1:9). 

  • Ninevah was destroyed in 612 B.C. and its location was later forgotten—until it was discovered by archaeologists in 1845 (2:13). 


  • In the arid climate of this region, dew is typically abundant during the growing season and is often as valuable as rain (1:10). 

  • A garment coming into contact with "consecrated meat" (meat from an animal set apart for a sacrifice) became "holy" (see Lev 6:27 but could not pass on that holiness to a third object. Ceremonial uncleanness was transmitted much more easily than holiness, since anything touched by an unclean person became unclean (Hag 2:12-13). 

  • A signet was a kind of seal, the impression of which in clay or wax functioned as a signature. A signet, worn on one's finger or on a cord around one's neck, could be used as a pledge or guarantee of full payment of a debt (2:23). 


  • Zechariah experienced all eight visions during the course of one night. They were not dreams, for the prophet was fully awake (1:8). 

  • The "land of the north" was Babylonia, which in fact lay to the east. But since a desert separated Assyria and Babylonia from Israel/Judah, invading armies regularly attacked from the north (2:6). 

  • Taking off his filthy clothing deprived Joshua of his priestly office but was also symbolic of the removal of sin. Putting a clean turban on his head reinstated him to his high-priestly function so that Israel once again had a divinely authorized priestly mediator (3:4-5). 

  • A "waterless pit" or empty cistern was sometimes used as a detention cell (9:11). 

  • Wounds on a person's body were at times suspected to have been self-inflicted as a component of idolatrous worship practices (13:6). 


  • Marriages to foreign (pagan) women were strictly forbidden in the covenant law, not for ethnic or cultural reasons but because of the danger of their leading to apostasy (2:11). 

  • "Launderer's soap," called "fuller's soap" in some versions, was an alkali prepared from the ashes of certain plants and used for cleansing and "fulling" (shrinking or thickening) new woolen cloth (3:2).